By Mary Hall
Chad Fusilier is a young farmer who operates a farm and farm stand at 20000 Sager Rd. in Sylvan Township that is bustling with business. He said approximately 90% of the items sold at the stand are from his farm.
He graduated from Michigan State University this month, and is planning to get married in the fall. Fusilier Farms is his livelihood and setting for his future family.
During the May Sylvan Township board meeting, Fusilier ran into some bureaucratic problems that he believes will set a bad precedent with future boards should he give in.
Back in 2014, the then board of Sylvan Township held the position that, in order for Fusilier Farm and its farm stand to be protected under the Right to Farm Act, certain provisions needed to be met first. They had an issue with the signage in front of the farm stand, and they asserted that Fusilier needed a Special Use Permit to run his farm stand.
Fusilier, however, felt that, under the Right to Farm Act, he was protected from local government imposing fees for special use permits and the like. He did agree to take down his sign. At issue for Chad was his concern that, if he gave in and went against what he believed to be his right under the Right to Farm Act and paid the special use permit fees (currently totaling $3,400.00 according to the Sylvan Township web site), that might not be the end of it.
Sylvan Township Supervisor Tom McKernan said during the May meeting that board members are very understanding of Fusilier’s situation and trying to be as non-aggressive as possible. He added that they are not in the business of interfering with young families and their prospering businesses.
As township board members they are elected to do the job of enforcing the ordinances and laws of the township for which they serve.
This particular issue was one the current board inherited as it was never fully resolved by the prior board members, and loose ends needed to be tied up.
Fusilier’s main concern is with possible future board members. As has already happened, he is concerned that giving in to demands would open him up to even greater intervention from future township boards, which could mean even more governmental interference and much higher fees that could become cost prohibitive.
Therefore, it’s not only the special use permit that is at issue for Fusilier, it’s what giving in could represent. Fusilier thought this was resolved years ago with the previous Sylvan Township Board. “They had me prove that I was in compliance, that I met all of GAMMPs (Generally Accepted Agriculture Management Practices) regulations, and I thought that was that. The problem was I didn’t get it in writing.” When the new board came in, they had nothing to document that this issue had been resolved, and found themselves addressing Fusilier regarding the permit and other issues again.
Following the May Sylvan Township Board Meeting, Supervisor McKernan stated “We don’t want to go to court if we can avoid it. We would consider that a fail as well.” He went on to explain that they were trying to resolve the issue with the least amount of intrusion into their lives and business as possible. The board members expressed their concern about misreading the Right to Farm Act and imposing fees that shouldn’t be imposed. They needed clarification.
During that same meeting, the board voted to hire Catherine Kaufman, Esq. of Buckman, Sparks, Thail, Seeber and Kaufman, PC for special counsel on the Right to Farm Act. With Kaufman’s knowledge and guidance in this area the board expressed a hope they could resolve the issues with a positive outcome.
The decision seems to have paid off for all parties involved. Chad Fusilier recently reported that he has been contacted, and it is his understanding that after Catherine Kaufman, Esq. reviewed the case, the decision was made that, as long as a Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) inspector comes to the farm stand and insures he is in compliance with GAMMPs, he is in fact protected under the Right to Farm Act and will not be subject to fees for special use permits or any other special intervention by local government.
It should be noted that, throughout this long process, Chad Fusilier has repeatedly stated that he bears no ill will toward the current board of Sylvan Township. In fact, he stated he has “nothing but respect” for supervisor Tom McKernan, who he understands has been stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Assuming all goes as planned, it should be a big relief for all to get this off their plates and move on. Supervisor Tom McKernan could not be reached for comment about the new developments.
With the hope of finally getting this settled (in writing this time) and having had to say good-bye to his maternal grandfather who passed away three weeks ago, Chad Fusilier is looking forward to happier times. He will be marrying his fiancé, Kaitlyn Blaine, on October 6, 2018.